Greatness can mean different things to different people. In Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is great in several ways. To the reader, especially in the 1920's when the book was published, he can be seen as great because he embodied the American dream to become wealthy through one's own efforts. To his community he is great because he is mysterious, wealthy, and the hub of social activities of celebrities and the newly rich. Finally, to Nick Carraway, Gatsby's neighbor and the author of the book, Gatsby is great for his fatalistic idealism, his unwavering hope to win back his lost love, Daisy Buchanan.
The American Industrial Revolution at the turn of the century, coupled with the robust economy and influx of immigrants in the 1920's made the American dream (one's ability to become successful through hard work and determination) a point of pride for most Americans (Cliff's 9). On one level Gatsby's greatness is his self-reliance, his fulfilling of the American dream. He came from a family of "shiftless and unsuccessful farm people" (104). Before earning his riches he lived hand-to-mouth, working "as a clam digger and a salmon fisher." Rather than remain poor, however, Gatsby took it upon himself to rise into affluence. He changed his name, gleaned knowledge from his mentor, Dan Cody, and embarked upon a lucrative, albeit unscrupulous, career selling alcohol during Prohibition. By the time Nick meets him, Gatsby is famous in West Egg, a hot spot for celebrities and the newly rich, for his impressive house and frequent, extravagant parties. After Gatsby's death, his father comes to the house for the funeral and is also impressed and proud of his son's material accomplishments (180). Though his accomplishments are made through illegal activities and unappreciated by those from East Egg, where the "old rich" reside, he has succeeded in his endeavors to become rich and thus has accomplished the American Dream by most people's standards.